YA Urban Fantasy
Lily’s nerves thrummed like the frail strings of an old violin. Crossing the threshold to her mother’s bedroom, she neared the dresser. Thump, thump. Her footsteps pounded against the linoleum. She glanced over her shoulder, shook her head, uncurled her toes. Moved past the unmade sheets, the opened paint cans. Three, two, one: the mahogany designs loomed before her. Her heart thumped louder, louder, too loud—another glance over her shoulder—unending as she hesitated, her hand in the empty air. Poised but ready. She grabbed the photo frame, but her sweaty fingers lost their purchase and it plummeted towards the floor—a sudden roar plugging her ears as she dove and caught the glass.
A soft rustle broke the spell. Jerking to her feet, she hid behind the door. Seconds passed without a glimpse of her mother. Lily dashed to her bedroom and closed the door right as her knees gave way. Relief threaded through her veins and only the bite of her nails confined her in reality. She gazed at her prize until a voice interrupted her.
As usual, her mother sounded exhausted. If Lily opened the door, her mother’s forced smile would underscore the dark crescents beneath her eyes; that exhaustion would vanish once she noticed that Lily had stolen her wedding photo.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Lily replied.
When her mother’s footsteps receded, she scanned the photo. The thin layer of dust coating the glass did not surprise her—her mother didn’t even own Lysol—but she felt as if she stood at the edge of a precipice. One step, two steps, small steps to fall, but there was no going back. Not now, not ever. She looked to her violin, propped on her desk, and imagined drawing the bow back and forth, liberating one of Beethoven’s symphonies. After a few minutes, she unwound her clasped fingers.
Squaring her shoulders, she withdrew the photo and sucked in a breath.
While her mother glowed, sunshine and warmth, the man fixed to her side had hair streaked with silver and a body lined with age. Wrinkles mapped the contours of his face, and though his eyes twinkled, light streaming through water, his right hand clung to her mother’s arm with a force that seemed painful. Despite the yoke of his weight, her mother flushed with laughter, highlighting the telltale shine of her youth. The white lace and satin which hugged her slim figure accentuated her olive skin and sunset hair, but her neck lacked the turquoise pendant it usually featured.
The melody humming through Lily’s mind came to an abrupt halt as she searched the rest of the photo. No answers, nothing of use. The photo fell from her fingers, but this time she let it. She stared at the phone beside her bed, and the walls shrunk around her, thin and yellow and too familiar, disappointment curdling like rotten milk into her.
The caller should have told her more.
Hours earlier their phone had rung over and over again while she was washing the dishes. Now, minutes away from hanging out with Josh, miles away from finding the answers she craved, the memory swept over her.
“Hi.” An unfamiliar male voice greeted her. “Am I speaking with Lily Napier?”
He laughed, a deep, earthy tune that nestled Lily in its arms until: “I’m one of your father’s friends.”
Fingers coiled around her stomach and squeezed. She jumped off the counter, adrenaline threading through her veins, forcing her to move, move, move.
“You know my father?” She tilted her head to the side and waited, but the silence exposed the fissures in her breathing so she snapped, “Well, do you?”
Another pause. “How much do you know about him?”
Too little. She clutched the phone tighter. “Who the hell are you?”
“Look, I didn’t mean to offend you—”
“Then don’t ask about personal issues. Who are you?”
“I’m just trying to help.”
“That’s not an answer, and if you don’t give me one in the next minute, I’m going to hang up.” Her hands slipped on the phone. He would call her bluff and she would never discover the truth and—
“Wait, I’m sorry. Please…” He sighed, the sound as heavy as the tenor of her heart. “Ask your mom about him.”
“I already have.” She tried not to sound too impatient.
“Have you really? Well, this time, try asking her when she last saw him.”
With those words, the line sputtered to its end. The dial-tone stung her ears, but she couldn’t move. Why would their wedding night be different? The thought repeated its mantra in her mind as a half-formed plan rose slowly to meet it. She didn’t realize how long she stood there, staring at the phone and wondering why now, why after seventeen years this would happen, until the voice floated on the air behind her and reality shattered her reverie.
Lily spun around and her shoulder collided with the counter, jolting her bone. She swore, but her mother’s expression remained neutral—well, except for the slightest raise in her brow, a sign which Lily had trained herself to see. Without it, there’d be nothing.
“Wrong number,” she said hastily.
“Oh.” Her mother turned, already bored with her.
“Hey, can we order some pizza, maybe watch Jane Eyre? Isn’t AMC showing it tonight?” Her mother loved the Brönte sisters; they rang too Gothic for Lily’s taste, but there were things to be discussed.
“Ouais, ouais, mon ange.” My angel. Lily almost snorted. “Maybe later.”
Her mother’s gaze fixed on her bedroom—to continue painting her mural or to soak her sheets with perpetual tears, Lily wasn’t sure which; that room was as forbidden as ever to her. Either way, she knew the answers would have to wait. In this state, her mother was a duet in an orchestra: out of time, out of place.
As was Lily. She shook herself, dislodging the memory. Even if she had dedicated the past few hours to the photo, it didn’t matter. Her plan had failed. The photo yielded nothing, no clue of what the man had meant, and now the only way forward was the woman who had refused to answer her questions since she had been old enough to ask them. Her mother. The word promised more than her memories suggested.
Red and black dots spotted her vision, violin notes without sheets. Damn him. Damn this home and its thin walls and the high windows. This room which offered only the illusion of privacy and comfort. Her mother’s sobs which haunted the hallway time after time. Lily was a goddamned mistake, but her mother was too proud to admit it and she was too proud to ask.
Fire burned through her veins, and she stared down at her fingers, tracing the anthem of anger there. She couldn’t hide anymore.
Disregarding the photo, she marched through the small hallway, wincing as her heels clanked on the tiled floor. Her mother didn’t notice. When Lily entered the living room, she started and dropped her crochet needles.
Chaos enwrapped Mireille Napier—eyes ablaze with a feverish light, outshining the dark circles for once; overalls spattered with a mishmash of paints crusted in the denim edges; hair unwound and writhing like withered branches around a face carved in shadows. At forty-five years old, she carried a wild beauty which Lily could never have with her carefully applied makeup and polished shoes. She was the artist and Lily the musician; no matter what, their paints would sing to different harmonies.